Snow Angel: Chapter 43

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Chapter 43: Goals

Snow's whole life changes when the winter solstice arrives.

 

I felt suddenly guilty that we had left her here all alone while we spent days at the summit in Twinvale. “Sorry, Clover, we should...”

 


 
Author's Note: I should have had this posted on Sunday, but another long week, late hours and exhaustion delayed things. As always, thanks to Big Closet and to all my readers for your support. I hope you all enjoy. Further chapters are (or soon will be) available on Patreon. ~Amethyst.
 


 
Chapter 43: Goals

The morning after the formal dinner to end our negotiations, we returned our guests to Ashburn before heading briefly home to Woodbury Base. The diplomats were very excited about our future cooperation and even Michael seemed cautiously optimistic. I was a little worried about Desra though.

The team leader for Suppression Team Theta was quiet and brooding and, while my experiences with her so far told me that this likely wasn’t unusual for her, I got the distinct feeling that the subject matter of her ruminations was different than usual, and focused on more recent events. Despite her efforts to maintain her tough exterior, I got the distinct impression that being the one to kill the Queen’s former consort was weighing on her mind more than she was letting on. Killing a person is far different from killing Demons, and I suspected that slaughtering Demons from inside of power armor somewhat distanced the members of the Suppression Teams from the visceral nature of dealing death.

She had gone from the impersonal massacre of Demons inside of her power armor to the very personal act of lopping a man’s head off, with only an axe between them. Even if she had fantasized about that day for most of her life, this was reality rather than fantasy and reality was more gruesome and carried a lot more weight, even just for those of us watching. It wasn’t even done in combat so she could tell herself it was him or her, it had been planned and he had been lashed down so he couldn’t move. Yes, he had earned that death, several times over, but I didn’t think that I could ever make myself be the one to swing that axe.

My grandmother believed that Desra was still trying to put it in perspective and that she was at a loss for a meaningful goal now after devoting much of her life to the goal of killing her father. She believed that Desra would get over it in time. Marti believed that she was grieving in a way and just needed the support of those close to her until she was ready to talk about what was bothering her. Fortunately, Garon and Pippa planned on sticking close to their team leader and trying to be there for her as best they could.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get to stay at the base for long since we had deliveries to make to our new allies. While Risha already had all of the blueprints for weapons and other technology that we were offering Ashburn available, we had promised to provide physical prototypes for some of the more complex things, such as Risha’s mini fusion core to power their armor, as well to give them a starting point toward better understanding and implementing them. Since a few of those items were too large to produce in the MIST’s small food dispenser, Risha said that she would need to use the larger molecular assembler at the base to make them.

When we arrived at the base and reached the Hangar level, we were surprised to see Clover waiting there expectantly. Since we weren’t expecting to be staying very long, I quickly gave my orders to the others. “Heather and Autumn, please keep the MIST flight ready and do a systems check while we’re here. Lisbet, I need you to top up the matter reservoirs for the food dispenser and the mini-fusion core. Risha, you can go create the devices for Ashburn, are you going to need any help carrying that stuff?”

“I could probably use an extra pair of arms,” the blonde Avatar admitted. “Most of the stuff isn’t too big, and I can just make a shoulder bag to carry them, but the modified pulse cannons and other energy weapons that we agreed on for their power armor are going to be an armful.”

“Karina, please go help her with that, me and Marti will see what Clover wants, she looks a little upset,” I said with a look toward my best friend. I was certain that she could handle the weight since Devilkin are pretty strong.

“You got it, Snow, it’s nothing I can’t handle,” Karina replied with a playful salute.

“I don’t think she’s upset, Snow, that’s Clover’s determined face. There’s something she wants and she’s psyching herself up to ask,” Risha explained with a sigh before the four of us, and my grandmother, followed Lisbet out of the rear hatch of the MIST, with me and Marti each bearing one of the twins in their slings.

Lisbet made her way directly toward the flexible metallic hose that would allow her to fill both reservoirs with water. Those reservoirs could be filled with pretty much any junk that we could find in an emergency, but simple water or other liquids would be far more efficient volume-wise and would be much easier to deal with. The Harekin already had the hose in hand as Karina and Risha headed straight for the large molecular assembler.

I decided to try to keep things as casual as possible as I approached Risha’s best friend and fellow Avatar. “Clover, I’m surprised you’re here to meet us. How were things while we were gone?”

“Boring,” Clover replied with an exasperated sigh. “I tried to explore the town a bit, but the only people here to talk to were the other two teams like yours and a few of the techies that they have down in the labs, but they were mostly too busy to talk. I feel like I’m alone here. Well, I guess there was the Marti who came to see how I was doing every day. She had a bit of a dirty mind sometimes, especially her sense of humor, but she seemed like she cared.”

I felt suddenly guilty that we had left her here all alone while we spent days at the summit in Twinvale. “Sorry, Clover, we should...”

The redheaded Fay Avatar quickly shook her head and frantically waved my apology off with her hands as she cut me off. “No! I wasn’t complaining, I really needed a few days to myself to think about things, and about what I want to do with my new life. Living a peaceful life in the forest was Kiley’s dream, but I’m not her anymore and the world is a vastly different place than I remember. I… umm… overheard Maryn talking to her team about you all going to Ashburn, and I want to come with. She said that I would have to talk with Sira or Archangel Abbadine about it though.”

From the blush on her face, I had to assume that her overhearing them meant that she had been playing with her new micro-drones and listening to conversations that she shouldn’t have been. I sighed and turned expectantly to my grandmother who wore a thoughtful frown. She too sighed and shook her head, “This isn’t a pleasure trip, Clover. We have other business in Ashburn, like recruiting new Angels.”

Phantom Wing and Shadow Wing were already halfway to Eden Base to pick up Sira and some senior Angels that she had chosen to oversee the small base we would have in Ashburn and the new Angels that would be recruited and trained there. Sira would be staying there for a few days to oversee the nanite doses for those new Angels, as would Shadow Wing and their Marti, to help those new Angels through their changes and so Rose could recruit the three new members that she needed for her team now that Taddick had been reassigned.

Apparently, Taddick had pissed off Rose one time too many while we were all at the summit and she had told Sira that she was done with him. The AI in charge had decided to send him back to the academy to join Pike Wing, and they would all be going through something that Sira called ‘sensitivity training’. In my opinion, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch of guys.

As for our trip to Ashburn, Phantom Wing and Storm Wing would probably only be staying long enough to make our delivery of blueprints and prototypes, take delivery of all of the HESS armor that Ashburn had promised the Angel Corps, and so that Risha could meet the people who would be adopting Chii. She wanted to get to know the prospective parents a bit and ensure that they would make a good fit before continuing her work on the child AI and their avatar body. Aria had promised to make the introductions when we arrived, and I was looking forward to another delicious meal at the Golden Dragon while our team got to know the Huang family a bit better.

I was drawn out of those thoughts as Clover countered my grandmother’s reply with an excited, “That’s perfect! I want to be an Angel, like Risha and the rest of Storm Wing! I want to see more of the world and help fight the Demons. I already have Risha’s altered Angel nanites and all of her upgrades, so I could be an asset to any team that I join.”

My grandmother’s eyes narrowed for a moment before giving Clover an appraising look. “Being an Angel isn’t all travel and kicking Demon ass, it’s dangerous work. You would be safer if you helped the corps as a technician or maybe by helping to run the base since you can interact with the AI core.” I knew my grandmother well enough that I immediately figured out what she was doing. She was pushing Clover’s buttons, making sure that this was truly what she wanted, and that she had thought this out.

Clover rose to the bait. “I’m sick and tired of being kept ‘safe’ and mostly alone, my life has been like that ever since I became a Fay when I was twelve! First, the research center with Risha as my only companion and a bunch of scientists who saw me as nothing more than a lab animal! Then my father’s sick attempt to make me like I was before I was Fay, I never left the mansion and was treated like a child that needed to be protected from everything! Then I spent hundreds of years asleep and locked in an actual vault to keep me safe until you found me! I know how dangerous it is and I want to be doing something with my life instead of stuck here safe inside of this base!”

“You could die, Clover,” my grandmother coolly countered. I, on the other hand, was trying to calm Kallie down as she was woken up by Clover’s raised voice. I fished in the bag at my side for her bottle and started to feed her as I cooed comfortingly.

“A person can die crossing the street! With my abilities, I could be useful out there, and the only chance of something actually killing me is the slim chance that my micro AI core is completely destroyed. Anything else my nanites can self-repair, and on the off chance that it does happen I can just start keeping backups of my neural net like Risha does, and have my avatar rebuilt!” she snapped in response. “I have been thinking about this for days! I want this!”

My grandmother’s pensive expression turned to a grin as she pointed toward the MIST. “Get in that MIST and get your ass strapped in then, recruit, we’ll be leaving as soon as Risha and Karina get back. When we get there, I’ll introduce you to Rose, hopefully, you’ll be a good fit for her team. Risha has proven invaluable for Storm Wing, and I think you could do the same for Shadow Wing if given the chance.”

Clover looked prepared to further argue her case until the first words left the Archangel’s lips. Then she practically jumped in surprise once she had finished processing what was being said and snapped a quick salute. “Yes, Wingleader!” She must have been studying too while making her decision, or she had simply remembered us addressing my grandmother that way. Either way, the Avatar looked very happy as she practically skipped into the MIST.

I watched her go with an amused smile as I rocked Kallie in my arms and fed her. I accused my grandmother, “You were hoping she’d choose to join up, weren’t you?”

“We were going to try to recruit her once she settled in and got adjusted to the world as it is now,” she confirmed. “Rose will be happy. It was Shadow Wing’s Marti who was checking in on Clover while we were gone, and Rose was hoping that she could be convinced to join Shadow Wing since she has read the reports and seen how invaluable Risha has been to your team. We didn’t expect her to come to the decision on her own though, and certainly not this quickly. Is she mentally stable, Marti?”

“She certainly seems happy,” Marti offered with a cheerful smile as she adjusted Kassie in her sling. Like her sister, she had stirred at Clover’s earlier outburst and Marti was starting to feed her as well. Then Marti hummed pensively and after a moment, she stated, “I just spoke with Marti. When she visited, she tried to get to know Clover better and asked some probing questions to see how she was adjusting. She said that Clover seemed a bit lonely, but she seems to be adjusting well and has been giving serious thought to her future. She could use some companionship, but being part of a close-knit team and having friends like us outside of it as well should help her a lot.”

“That’s probably the best that we could hope for, given her past and her current situation,” my grandmother replied with a thoughtful nod of her head. “Knowing Marti already should help her to integrate with Shadow Wing too, and Marti will be aware of her needs and help to address her loneliness until she settles in and forms friendships with her other wingmates.”

Half an hour later, we were all strapped in and on our way back to Ashburn. The reservoir tanks were full, the weapons and other gear that Risha and Karina had brought back were stowed in the cargo section, and Risha had taken the seat beside Clover for the trip while Marti and I played with the twins. We were all comfortably settled in for the trip with drinks in the cup holders of our seats so we wouldn’t have to get up mid-trip unless we needed to use the bathroom.

It was quiet for several minutes before Risha asked her friend, “So what did you do while we were gone? Besides deciding to become an Angel, of course.”

“Not a lot,” the Fay Avatar replied with a shrug. “I explored the town a bit, spent some time with Marti after her team was done training every day, and started playing around with some of my new abilities, except for the weapons.” I couldn’t help but smile at that since it seemed to confirm my suspicions about how she had overheard Maryn.

“Sorry, we should have brought you with us, but I didn’t want to risk anyone finding out what you are before we could propose my plan to deal with Ashburn’s AI issues. I feel like a horrible friend for leaving you for days while you had to come to terms with how much the world has changed in the hundreds of years since you were put to sleep. I mean, we’re still basically at war with the Demons, and as far as I can tell, the world outside of Misota isn’t doing so great for the most part.”

Clover reached over to pull her best friend into a side hug. “Don’t beat yourself up about it, Rish. I needed time to think anyway, and you have responsibilities. And at least I know where I stand now, even if I haven’t seen much of the world. Sure, most of civilization is probably long gone and we’re in a post-apocalyptic hell, but war. War never changes.”

“Pfffftt!” Risha snorted and giggled madly. Once she could finally speak again, she looked at Clover and said, “Really? You’re referencing Fallout?”

“Well, duh,” Clover playfully retorted. “I mean, it is so appropriate, and I’ve spent the last hundreds of years in a literal vault before you found me. All I’m missing is a Pip-Boy and the blue and gold jumpsuit with a number on the back.”

“That can be arranged,” Risha shot right back before breaking down into giggles again. “Fuck, I’ve missed my BFF! You’re the only one with a sense of humor like mine. Nobody else in this century gets my references, I’ve even tried quoting ‘Airplane!’ and those jokes should be timeless.”

“Airplane?” the redhead of the pair inquired, obviously baiting Risha from the grin on her face.

“It is a fixed-wing aircraft with passengers inside, but that’s not important right now,” Risha seriously replied, sending the pair into a fit of uncontrollable giggling. When they had both finally calmed down, she said, “See, that right there. You have that same wacky sense of humor as I do.”

“And that, as much as anything else, led to my drinking problem,” Clover said solemnly before taking her glass of water and raising it to her mouth, only she missed, splashing the right side of her face.

“I can’t believe there are two of them,” Karina said with feigned exasperation as she tried to hide a smile.

It was almost a minute after that when realization bloomed in my mind and I suddenly burst out into laughter, very glad that Kallie was secure in her sling. “Drinking problem! I think… I actually… got that joke.”

“Heh, there’s hope for Snow, yet,” Risha said as she broke into a grin. “It took her a minute, but at least one of my future mates has a sense of humor.”

“You’re really going all-in on the harem stereotypes, aren’t you, Rish?” Clover taunted playfully. “Snow fills both the tough badass chick and the cat-girl roles, Autumn is an elf and the sexually forward girl who aggressively pursues a relationship, and Heather is totally a tsundere.”

“Hey! I heard that! And what the hell is a tsundere?!” Heather shouted from the pilot’s compartment.

“And we’re a mate-group, not a harem! And if it was anyone’s harem, it would be mine!” Autumn added.

“It’s a Japanese word for a character, usually female, who has an initially harsh personality, but gradually reveals a warmer and friendlier side over time, Heather,” Risha explained loud enough for the two Fay piloting the craft to hear. “Basically, it’s you! No, Autumn, if it was a harem, it would probably be Snow’s and I would be the quirky android girl. Snow totally has that main character energy and she’s our Wing Commander.”

“I am not…” Heather started to snap back before being cut off by Autumn.

“Snow can be in charge anytime, but it’s still a mate-group!” I could practically hear the teasing purr in Autumn’s raised voice.

~o~O~o~

We beat Phantom Wing and Shadow Wing to Ashburn by roughly ten minutes, but Aria was there to meet us, along with Beth Robinson, the Orc from her diplomatic team, and several members of their Engineers Union. The members of the latter were very eager to receive the blueprints and the various samples that Risha had brought, and after she explained everything that they might need to know, she transferred the blueprints from her internal memory to the portable computer that they had brought with them. By the time those happy engineers were off to get to work on getting a feel for the technology and replicating what they could in their food dispensers, our sister Wings had landed.

The rear hatches of the two MISTs opened up and, along with Phantom Wing and Rose’s currently reduced team, Sira, a half dozen senior Angels, and nearly twice that in support staff poured out of the two craft. My grandmother motioned for me and Clover to join her as she headed over to the newly arrived group and made a beeline for Sira, Rose, and Maryn. The rest of my team went to mingle with Maryn’s team and chat until our orders were given.

Sira’s face was impassive, but Rose’s eyebrows rose in surprise at the sight of Clover. “Rose, Clover here wants to be an Angel, and she was very convincing. So, it looks like you’ll only need to find two new team members, if you still want her to join your team, that is,” my grandmother told the Harekin with a playful smirk.

“Oh, hell yes! If she is even half as good with old-world tech as I’ve heard Risha is, then she belongs on one of the special operations teams. Who knows what we’ll find while scouting ruins or outside of Misota and anyone would be a better fit than Taddick was,” Rose said with a smile that practically split her face in half.

Sira nodded with an approximation of a smile on her face. “Very well, Rose. I will assign her to Shadow Wing. Clover, you should get to know your new wingmates. As soon as Rose has chosen the last two members to round out your team you will all be helping to care for them while the Angel nanites do their work. Then we will get the three of you geared up and Shadow Wing back to Woodbury Base for training as soon as possible.”

After a brief pause, Sira turned her attention to my grandmother and the Wing Commanders among us as Clover rushed over to join her new wingmates and cheerfully greeted the Marti who wore her black hair short with a single and somewhat messy pigtail on her right side. “Rose, your team with be coming with me and the Tinkers, to make sure that the place they are offering as a base will be suitable to our needs, and to interview Angel candidates. Abbadine, you will be with us as well.”

My grandmother nodded as she said, “Aye, we’ll have to test those candidates to make sure they’re up to the challenge and to see what they have for gifts.”

Sira then turned her gaze on my Phantom Wing counterpart and me. “Snow and Maryn, you will take custody of the HESS units and deliver them to the current academy in Twinvale, where you will assist the other Archangels in issuing them to active Angels, trainees, the pilots, and the various support staff. You may have to make multiple trips, and once you are done at the academy, you will take the remainder to Eden Base to start equipping everyone there. The few people that we have at Woodbury Base and the forward base in the ruins already have access to HESS armor, as do those of us here, so you will not need to concern yourselves with that.”

I was about to mention something else when Sira raised her hand to halt my words. “I know Risha has other business here, Snow, so you may attend to that, and both of your teams can enjoy a good meal before you leave with the first shipment.”

“What about Clover and the Ashburn recruits?” Rose asked. “They’re going to need armor as well, and weapons suited to Angels.

“They will receive their HESS armor here in Ashburn, Rose. Even with what they are providing us, they will still have a small surplus available for our new recruits and their people. As for their weapons, the recruits will all go through the regular tests with me before receiving their dose of nanites, and we will have to return briefly to Eden base to procure them while the recruits are recovering. Are there any other questions?” We all shook our heads and the AI nodded as she said, “Let us get to work then.”

© 2021-2023 Amethyst Gibbs
All Rights Reserved

Further chapters are available to the public on my Patreon page.

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Comments

Ashburn Angels

So, to whom do they show allegiance to? The Angels as an organization while still being Asburn citizens? They are not citiizens of Misota that is for sure.

This also brings up the question of how an AI gains citizenship. Clover as far as I know was created without any rights at all. She was 'born' in Misota in a sense but as far as I know has not sworn allegiance to the Crown.

Risha's daughter will be interesting as she is 'birthed' in Misota but will 'immigrate' to Ashburn.

Interesting thing about AIs is their potential to transmit themselves from point to point given enough network bandwidth I would imagine. So if they cross countries do they need passports?

Allegiance

Remember the Angels do not swear to any state, so there shouldn't be a conflict there,

as for AI transmitting themselves, from what we can tell not only does there have to be an AI core available at the other end, but they can only go do it locally might be a physical bandwidth limitation as well as a safeguard. Avatars that host their own AI cores were fairly new by the time those who could left, as a practical matter making sure they have to be physically present near where they transfer themselves is a good way to contain them, it's also probably easier and more practical for the AI as well as they can do diagnostics by remote using the local network before they transfer to the AI core.

Allegiance

Amethyst's picture

The Angels' allegiance isn't to any one government or government head. Their allegiance is to the Angel Corps and to the people in general, who they vow to protect. In this case, 'the people' would be the people of Misota and Ashburn since they will have Angels based in both.

In Sira's, Risha's, Clover's and Marti's cases, they're members of the Angel Corps and the queen is heavily invested in it so affording them citizenship makes sense. All of her ancestors have treated Sira as a person and citizen of Misota, she helped found the country in the first place, but the citizenship only really concerns where their AI core is based. They can likely transmit their consciousness to other places, but their core programming will only ever be in their AI core, which can only exist in their Avatars or a dedicated AI core like at Eden or Woodbury base, but not both at once.

Risha's daughter will likely be a dual citizen of Ashburn and Misota since she will be 'born' in Misota but adopter by people in Ashburn.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Thanks Dot

Amethyst's picture

I'm glad you're enjoying it.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Loving this story

Wendy Jean's picture

Beautiful characters, excellent world building, does it get any better than this. Sounds like they are going through what I've always predicted with true intelligence which I phrase as synthetic intelligence when they come we had better be willing to give them some rights or they will be much more dangerous than we can ever imagine.

Thanks

Amethyst's picture

I do try to weave an interesting tale. Yup, they could be very dangerous, which was why the military never trusteed them before the old world fell.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3